20th February 2009 — 12th April 2009
In 1982, Paul Graham published 'A1-the great north road', a wistful monograph shot in colour at a time when most of his contemporaries in Britain were still clinging to the aesthetics of black and white. It was a quintessentially British road trip. Nevertheless, the imagery and use of colour in American art photography quietly inspired his selection of subject matter.
Some 25 years on, 'a shimmer of possibility' is fully American. Shot in a number of locations across the country, it focuses on deliberately nondescript minutiae of daily life. Graham says he's less interested in the decisive moment than the before and after. There are three sequences here. Two are so dark you have to get up close to see what is going on. One concerns a longhaired man holding some flowers, another starts with a sunset and ends up with a girl playing basketball. The third, conventionally exposed, shows a man smoking a cigarette.
The three sequences of events unfold in six to eight images. They have been purposely edited to interrupt the natural rhythm of the action, which stutters, stops, starts again, but there's so little going on it's hard to see what's missing. There are many more, meticulously arranged in 12 slim hardbacks that would buckle the average bookshelf. It would be good to see the entire set to fathom exactly what Graham is up to.
A Park does something to people. Although it's a public place they let their guard down, revealing idiosyncrasies they would ordinarily keep behind closed doors.
For 25 years, Tod Papageorge prowled Central Park with a medium format camera and flash in search of these moments.
A young woman in a miniskirt leans against a tree kissing a man. Five inches away on the other side of the tree trunk, another woman in a matching miniskirt also leans, looking off in a different direction. The man's shirt matches the women's miniskirts.
A man tenderly combs a boy's hair with an outsized comb. In the foreground is a semicircle of cans and carefully arranged kindling for a tiny bonfire.
A man sunbathes in longish grass with his feet on his briefcase, but in the silvery monochrome of the print his body looks more bleached than tanned.
Papageorge has stuck with the notion of the decisive moment. Each photo is a self-contained package, a story, or what appears to be, but we have to make our own interpretations. It is this ambiguity that makes the photos mysterious and intriguing.
The most recent picture in 'Passing Through Eden-Photographs of Central Park' was shot in 1991, but the book was not published until 2007. Ironically, for someone who so frequently snapped when his subjects weren't ready, it was partly shyness and fierce self-criticism that kept him from revealing these images to the public eye for so long.
'An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar' is exactly what is says. With Taryn Simon's work there is no ambiguity.
She has documented a diverse range of subjects, from security to entertainment. They range from the cute to the very unsettling. Each of her splendidly crisp pictures is neutrally lit, formally composed and comes with a precise textual description. It's the combination of these two elements that packs the punch.
What looks like the corner of an art gallery with two unexceptional abstract art pieces turns out to be the old CIA headquarters, where it is believed Abstract Expressionism was helped onto the world stage, as a weapon to combat Soviet Communism.
A dot matrix pattern surrounded by a gaseous glow on a deep black background turns out not to be a logo for an energy company but a nuclear waste capsules in a storage facility. If you stand one foot from an unshielded one you will be lethally irradiated in less than ten seconds.
A slow motion film that Simon made of a weapons test looks impressive, beautiful even, under controlled conditions. We are told production of the particular warhead was tripled for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Best not imagine what happens when one hits a real target. The extremity of some of the subjects she was allowed access to for her project leads us to question how much worse the truly covert stuff might be.
Emily Jacir's 'Material for a film' looks into the life of Wael Zuaiter, a Palestinian poet and intellectual who was assassinated in Rome by Mossad agents in 1972.
Zuaiter was friends with a circle of eminent European intellectuals, including Alberto Moravia, and Jean Genet. Although he openly agreed with the Palestinian cause from an intellectual standpoint, all of those who knew him strongly refuted claims that he could have had anything to do with violence and Italian authorities dismissed any suggestions of his involvement in terrorism.
In her quest, Jacir sought the help of Janet Venn-Brown, who had been Zuaiter's companion for eight years. Together they met Zuaiter's old friends and sifted through Venn-Brown's archive, from which much of the material here was photographed.
It includes photos of photos, of letters, and books he read, the book he had in his pocket when he was gunned down, and, oddly poignant, a photo of the coin that Zuaiter kept on a string for the coin-operated lift in his apartment building. Jacir implies that her search has not been fully successful, which, now so much time has passed, is inevitable. And like it or not, despite everything he did in his life, his killers have ensured he will always be associated, to the public at least, with them. The full exhibit is a multimedia piece including sound and video but, like all the pieces in this show, it has had to be abridged. What remains is a tantalising glimpse of a tantalising look at a life cut short.
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